Division of Gastroenterology

History: Gastroenterology in Hamilton -
The First Forty Years

Trevor Seaton & Richard Hunt

Dr. John Hamilton

Dr. John Hamilton.

The McMaster University Division of Gastroenterology began with the recruitment of a young John Hamilton in 1969, about a year after the medical school got started. He had trained in Gastroenterology in St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, UK although his endoscopy skills were largely self-taught as this was an emerging investigation at that time. He often joked that he learnt endoscopy on the plane over to Canada!  He was immediately involved in the Problem Based program of the new school, and his lifelong special interest was education. John Hamilton had the perfect temperament for the McMaster philosophy of a ‘Matrix’ based system, where Clinical departments and ‘vertical support ‘ departments such as “Host Resistance and Pathology” could readily expect to call upon each other’s resources. At the time, the only other Gastroenterologists in the region were the recently appointed, Drs Harry Scime, and Hirsh Rastogi at St Joseph’s Hospital.

Amy Valtenbergs, Marysia Donnelly and Dr. Bob Goodacre

L to R: Amy Valtenbergs, Marysia Donnelly and Dr. Bob Goodacre.
4V1 GI clinic, MUMC, 1987.

A coalition of diverse people from different departments, united by their interest in Gasteroenterology quickly formed. They were welcomed and held together by Hamilton, who with his young GI recruits, provided the clinical input to allow the core of Basic Researchers to flourish.   In Radiology, he taught the GI radiologist to do endoscopy, which greatly facilitated the development of world class Air Contrast GI radiology.  Gastroenterology in Hamilton continued to grow with the appointment of Drs Trevor Seaton, Bob Goodacre, Richard Rossman, Mario Castelli, Terry Lewis and Evan Smith in the 1970s.

Drs Daniel and Fox joined the group from Neurosciences. There was a strong connection with the powerful Immunology group led be John Bienenstock.  Many of the well-known Gastroenterologists that came through, were here to do time in Immunology, but became integrated in our early Gastroenterology program. Meanwhile some of the early clinical trainees went on to stellar academic careers, notable among them Steve Collins who started in 1977 and went to the NIH, returning in 1981.

John Hamilton’s first love was education and in 1978 he left to start a new medical school in rural Nigeria as Professor of Medicine. After a spell at the Population Health Nutrition Division of the World Bank he moved to the new Medical School in Newcastle, NSW, Australia where he also became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

Intestinal Diseases Research Unit Staff, 1983.

Intestinal Diseases Research Unit Staff, 1983.

Richard Hunt joined McMaster in 1982 to head up the academic division of gastroenterology and built on the philosophy of the matrix system already established in the early years by John Hamilton.  McMaster’s success in winning one of two Intestinal Disease Research Units (IDRU) competitively funded by the Kahanoff Foundation in 1983 was the result of a submission which proposed an integrated approach to the study of intestinal inflammation, involving basic scientists in mucosal immunology and smooth muscle physiology working with clinicians with an interest in the pharmacology and treatment of intestinal disease. This core of clinical and basic scientists was supported by clinical epidemiology, outcomes research and health economics. Emphasis was also placed on specialized nursing support and training opportunities for young physicians with an interest in gastroenterology at the clinical, applied and basic research levels.

The Clinical Division and IDRU, both directed initially by Richard Hunt, developed and grew rapidly. In 1984 Steve Collins was appointed Director of the IDRU and during the next 10 years both the division and the IDRU developed closely as Steve and Richard pursued a common purpose.  In 1991 the IDRU was designated a faculty program by the University and renamed the Intestinal Diseases Research Program (IDRP)

McMaster attracted an increasing number of clinical and basic postgraduate students from Canada and overseas. These students were exposed to both basic and clinical research during their time in Hamilton and most also sought out the opportunity of exposure to clinical epidemiology and research methodology training. One of the first was Jan Irvine who achieved cross appointments in the Department of Medicine (Gastroenterology) and Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics soon after completion of her training. Other early Faculty appointments included Bruno Salena and Ken Croitoru, Patak Rangachari and Mary Perdue. Clinical gastroenterology was greatly strengthened in these years by the enthusiastic support in GI radiology of Giles Stevenson and in anatomical pathology of Robert Riddell.

Clinical and basic research activity developed rapidly and McMaster was usually in the top 10 of accepted abstracts at DDW and has continued in this vein. Steve Collins took over leadership of the Clinical Division in 1993 and later was distinguished for his scientific contributions by being appointed to a University Chair.  Mary Perdue was appointed to lead the IDRP.

Further, clinical Faculty appointments included David Armstrong, Gervais Tougas, David Morgan and John Marshall and in 2004 Paul Moayyedi was recruited to the newly established Richard Hunt – AstraZeneca chair in Gastroenterology. Also at about this time an initial award from the Farncombe family led to the establishment of the McMaster Gnotobiotic Facility and the recruitment of Andrew McPherson to a Canada Research Chair. In 2006 Paul Moayyedi took over leadership of the GI Division and in 2008 the Farncombe family made a further generous donation, which led to the establishment of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute and the recruitment of John Wallace as Director.